Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Creating a Digital Story...

This fall, I'll be teaching as a Graduate Assistant (GA) for the first time ever, which is very exciting to me. I've wanted to teach for many years and finally the opportunity has arrived. While working with my mentor to review and prepare for fall, she noted that we needed to replace the digital story examples and she suggested that maybe I should develop the non-fictional example and she would create the fictional example. 

I readily agreed, as I had never created an "official" digital story before and I felt it was important for me to work through developing one prior to trying to teach it during the semester. 

The first thing I did towards creating a digital story was to find educational digital stories already published to better understand the various types of digital stories, what they are about, and how to go about making one. Although the steps are outlined within the class lesson, I felt it was important to have a better understanding of the purpose of digital stories and what I should be trying to accomplish. Additionally, I wondered what are the best practices in developing a digital story?. And finally, I needed some ideas for a topic.

There were several sites which had examples of digital stories, but one site in particular caught my interest. The site is Creative Narrations available at: http://www.creativenarrations.net/stories. They have a wonderful collection of digital stories and one of the stories that I viewed really spoke to my heart. I felt that I would want to create mine in a similar style, once I knew the topic.

The next step was to decide on a topic. My mentor had noted that it shouldn't be on any of the current suggested topics, but it could be on a prior one or something totally different. I struggled with this decision for several days. I even prayed about it. The digital story that really spoke to my heart was a girl narrating a story about her grandma and the contaminated water in Tuscon where they lived. She spoke of how the contaminated water had been partly to blame for grandma's cancer and death, and how it was effecting her and her family that are still living. Finally, a few days later, the word, "Phill" came to mind and the words, "As a man thinketh, so is he." I wanted to tell the story of Phill and me, his thoughts and words of not living past the age of 50, and the pain I felt at his death at the age of 49. 

To be honest, I wasn't completely sure what category of "topics" my idea for a digital story fell under, so as I continued my online research for digital stories and best practices, I came across a PDF document with the title, "Digital Storytelling Topics." The author, someone at Modesto City Schools in California, identified categories of digital stories by level of competency: beginning topics, intermediate topics, and advanced. One of the intermediate topics identified was the "Memorial" topic. The author noted, "Honoring and remembering people who have passed is an essential part of the process of grieving.” ("How would you describe this person? Is there an event that best captures their character? What about them did you most enjoy? What lesson did they give you that you feel is important? If you had something to say to them, that they may have never heard you say, what would it be?"). I identified my topic as "Loss" or "Life Choices." (Modesto City Schools, n.d.). 

Along with obtaining a clearer picture of my topic and what category it fit into, one of the other tidbit of information I gleaned from the document, was the "6 Steps to Successful Digital Storytelling." I hadn't heard of the "6 Steps" before and wanted to know more. I Googled "6 steps to successful digital storytelling" and came up with several good hits, including a step-by-step description of a six-step process to digital storytelling in a document developed by David S. Jakes, an Instructional Technology Coordinator at Community High School District 99 in 
Downers Grove, Illinois. (D. S. Jakes, n.d.). It was perfect! Exactly what I was looking for and needed to round-out the instructions from the lesson plan.

The six steps identified by Jakes are: 
Step 1: Write
Step 2: Develop script
Step 3: Storyboard
Step 4: Locate resources
Step 5: Create
Step 6: Share 

And so I began to work my way through the six steps. It was actually harder than I thought it would be. Step 1 was fairly easy, because I just wrote out the story I was trying to tell. Jakes said it usually should be 3-4 pages and   the story I wrote was 4 pages. Step two was a little more difficult, as I had to cut the story back to a script. Jakes noted that a script usually should be no longer than 1 page for a 2-3 minute digital story. I'm kind of a wordy person so writing wasn't a problem, but cutting it down to a manageable script and still tell the story was difficult. I wrestled and wrestled with the script, but finally moved on to the storyboard. I figured if I kept trying to get the script perfect, I would never get the rest of the steps completed. 

After completing the storyboard, I had a clearer picture of what images and music I would need for my story. Locating the images wasn't exactly easy. I didn't have any pictures of Phill's younger years and very few of him in later years. I had a few taken of us here and there during the time we were together, but not very many. Eventually, I was able to locate and scan the old photographs I did have and found a few on various Websites that were free and I could edit or adjust to fit my needs. I knew I wanted Native American Indian flute music and thankfully, while developing a Webquest in a project early in my Masters, I had come across some Native American Indian Websites that offered free images and free music. 

Finally, I began to build my story using MovieMaker. I first added the images in the order of the storyboard. Then I added the flute music. My next step was to record the script or narration. Well, since it was my first time, I found myself having to go back several times and adjusting this or adjusting that; re-recording this or re-recording that. It took me several evenings, back-to-back, to narrate a script that would fit with the images, the music, and the timing, but eventually, I had a narration I could live with. Before finalizing the story, I reviewed the lesson rubric I would be teaching with this fall to make sure I had at least covered most, if not all points required for a decent grade, since my example should at least be a good example.

The final step was to share on YouTube and provide the link to my instructor to post as an example within the scheduled lesson plan, which I did: http://youtu.be/ZCsrK1B090s

This experience was a true learning experience. I used technology tools in ways that I hadn't before to create something I hadn't ever created; I learned that I was still grieving Phill's death and that this project ended up being a therapeutic part of that process; I learned some of the ins and outs of creating a digital story, which will enable me to better teach others how to work through the process of developing their own digital story this fall.

Jakes, D. S. (n.d.). Capturing stories, capturing lives: An introduction to digital storytelling. Retrieved from: http://www.jakesonline.org/dstory_ice.pdf

Modesto City Schools. (n.d.). Digital storytelling topics. Retrieved from: http://mcs.monet.k12.ca.us/departments/it/DST/DigitalStorytellingTopics.pdf

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